Elizabeth Day: ‘Real women don’t glow – we sweat’

‘Real women don’t glow – we sweat’

Elizabeth wears: Jumper, Hades. Skirt, Annie Bing

A couple of years ago, I went to a summer wedding in the South of France. Two female friends of mine were getting married to each other, so I was in the happy position of liking both brides equally, which is not always the case.

It was a stylish wedding – both brides worked in magazines. I wore a long silk green dress from Massimo Dutti, which for years I thought was the name of a racing car driver not a clothes shop. The dress was in the sale, it shimmered and wafted becomingly and rolled up into a small enough size to fit in my carry-on case. Job done, I thought.

But I hadn’t counted on the heat. The mercury was hitting 30 degrees as I stood in the shade of a tree, sipping lemonade, making polite chit-chat. About 15 minutes in, I looked down at my dress. A small dark patch had appeared on the waistband. On my wrist, where the cuffs were buttoned, there was another dotted mark. I looked up, wondering briefly whether some malevolent pigeon had followed me from London. Then I had a moment of horrified realisation: it was not bird poo, it was sweat and the small patches were spreading unstoppably across the green silk. ‘Oh my God,’ I exclaimed to no one in particular, then hurried to the bathroom, without hurrying too much in case the sweat got worse.

I’ve broken out in front of fragrant film stars (sorry, Matt Damon)

In the loo, I dried off with a hand towel. The rest of the wedding passed in an agitated haze as I tried not to move too much. Finally, when the sun went down and the temperature dropped, I was able to relax.

I am a sweaty woman. This is not a thing I ever wanted to admit, but there we have it. Walking too quickly down the street has me breaking out in droplets. Getting on the tube in the summer will mean I’m drenched by the time I arrive at my stop. A university friend of mine still calls me Sweaty Betty from the night we went dancing together some 20 years ago. I’ve lost count of the number of celebrity interviews I’ve done where, rushing to the venue in order not to be late, I’ve sat down opposite a fragrant Hollywood film star only to feel a tidal wave of sweat breaking out at the most inopportune moment (sorry, Matt Damon).

‘So tell me what preparation you did for this role,’ I’ll say, while surreptitiously trying to pat my cheeks with a napkin. It has always been this way. It is not that I’m unfit; I exercise almost every day (even if I’m always the sweatiest woman in the gym) and I sweated just as much when I didn’t work out. For years it embarrassed me. Women aren’t meant to sweat. We’re meant to glow, and emerge from the gym with our hair swinging like a shampoo advert, a light colour in the cheeks. I even have to shower after yoga. In fact, I prefer hot yoga because everyone sweats, so I no longer stand out.

Men, by contrast, can have their shirts stick clammily to their backs in a heatwave and no one is disgusted. When they exercise, sweat is seen as a symbol of their virility. Why shouldn’t it be the same for us? I’ve decided to strike a blow for gender equality and to stop being embarrassed. My sweat is not shameful, I now tell myself. It is a by-product of my strength and how hard I push myself. It’s a sign of my commitment, whether that be to doing 30 more triceps dips or to wearing impractical green silk to a summer wedding.

I’m fed up of being told what real women should and shouldn’t be like. I sweat. I’m a woman. Therefore real women sweat.

Besides, it probably means my skin is way more moisturised as a result. At the age of 80, maybe I’ll have far fewer wrinkles than those blessed women who never sweat and look great now. It all evens out in the end, doesn’t it?

This week I’m…

Reading Ordinary People by Diana Evans. A beautifully written novel about London families where every sentence merits rereading.

Sleeping at 8.30pm because I’ve been on a health retreat at Rancho la Puerta in Mexico. Barely any wifi, dawn hikes and long, silent nights. Bliss. 

Watching RBG, an informative, moving documentary about US Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who still works out, aged 85, with a personal trainer.



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